Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Terrorism’ Category

Source of the problem

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Written by Leisureguy

21 November 2022 at 4:48 pm

DHS blocked vital research on domestic threats, say terrorism experts

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When the government breaks down because officials do not want to know. Hannah Allam reports in the Washington Post (no paywall):

As bloody, hate-fueled attacks rose in 2019, Homeland Security officials pledged to step up their response to domestic terrorism, funding in-depth research that would help them understand the scale of the problem.

“Accurate nationwide statistics will better position DHS to protect communities from these threats,” the department said in a strategy report.

More than two years later, that data collection has not begun, and $10 million languishes unused because of internal disputes over privacy protocols, according to researchers and an official of the Department of Homeland Security.

Academics who received DHS contracts say their projects to study violent attacks and extremist movements have been delayed, some effectively scrapped, because of an endless loop of privacy concerns that typically would not apply to work based on open-source records — unclassified materials such as news reports. In interviews, researchers described the roadblocks they have faced as “crazytown,” “mind-boggling” and “beyond logic.”

Their accounts were confirmed by a DHS official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to freely describe a sensitive internal debate. The official said around 20 research projects funded by Homeland Security faced varying degrees of delays because of rulings by the DHS’s Privacy Office that deemed them high-risk even after researchers repeatedly explained that the information they intended to use was widely available to the public. At least $2 million of funding has been returned unused; $10 million more is essentially frozen unless privacy officers approve the research.

After so many months of paralysis, the official said, DHS relations with top terrorism scholars have soured, and DHS leaders are left with a gap in data — just as national attention is again focused on political violence, which is at the root of the ongoing trials in the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, the recent assault of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul Pelosi, and far-right threats around the midterm elections.

Those issues are likely to come up this week as Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas makes public appearances to address the government’s response to violent extremism, a national security priority for the Biden administration. In June 2021, the need for more research was spelled out in the country’s first national strategy for countering domestic terrorism, which noted that understanding the threat “requires facilitating a systematic provision of information and data.”

So far, that information-gathering work has not been carried out.

“Right now, if the secretary of Homeland Security turns to us and says, ‘Last year, how many serious attacks based on ideology or grievance happened?’ we can’t answer those fundamental questions,” the DHS official said. “We don’t know.”

Homeland Security declined to address specific examples of delayed contracts or to explain the privacy concerns. In a statement, a DHS spokesperson said that addressing domestic violent extremism is a top priority and cited interagency intelligence-sharing, prevention-focused grant programs, and a dedicated domestic terrorism branch within the Intelligence and Analysis office.

“DHS engages in a community-based approach to prevent terrorism and targeted violence, and does so in ways that protect privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties, and that adhere to all applicable laws,” the statement said.

Within DHS, the official speaking anonymously said, one view is that privacy officers are trying to shield Mayorkas from potentially controversial research at a time when federal agencies are criticized by both major political parties for their response to political violence. Republicans in Congress have portrayed the effort to investigate domestic terrorism as a thought-police exercise that infringes on First Amendment rights. Some Democrats, too, have expressed wariness of federal overreach, citing the civil liberties violations of the war-on-terror years.

DHS is already under scrutiny because of the rollback of plans to fight disinformation and for reports that authorities sought dossiers on protesters in Portland, Ore. — indications of how easily counterterrorism work can be politicized.

The academic researchers on contract with DHS said they . . .

Continue reading. (no paywall)

There’s much more, but I should append a frustration warning.

Update: See also this article on the ongoing failure that DHS represents.

Written by Leisureguy

16 November 2022 at 8:51 pm

U.S. Government Quietly Declassifies Post-9/11 Interview With Bush and Cheney

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Jeremy Scahill reports in The Intercept:

ON WEDNESDAY, AS the eyes of the U.S. public were focused on Tuesday’s midterm election results, a U.S. government panel quietly released a newly declassified summary of an Oval Office joint interview conducted with President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney about the September 11 attacks. The interview, carried out by members of the 9/11 Commission, was not recorded and the summary document constitutes the only known official record of the meeting. The meeting took place on April 29, 2004.

“The President and Vice President were seated in chairs in front of the fireplace. The President’s demeanor throughout was relaxed. He answered questions without notes,” according to the document drafted by the commission’s Executive Director Philip Zelikow. “The portrait of Washington was over the fireplace, which was flanked by busts of Lincoln and Churchill. Paintings of southwestern landscapes are on the wall. It was a beautiful spring day.” The document, whose declassification was first reported by the Wall Street Journal, is not an official transcript but is described as “a memorandum for the record.” It was authorized for release by the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel.

One of the most striking aspects of the declassified document is the apparent absence of even a glimmer of self-awareness by Bush about the significance of the death and destruction he was unleashing with his global war. The interview took place just as a massive insurgency was erupting in Iraq against a U.S. occupation that would kill thousands of U.S. soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians. While the document is a rough transcript and summary, Bush comes off as almost childishly simplistic in his insights and analysis. The lack of any sensitive information contained within the document should spur questions as to why it took more than 18 years to be made public.

The declassified document does not contain any groundbreaking revelations, but it does offer some new texture to the internal events immediately following the attacks. That morning, after the first plane had hit the World Trade Center, Bush was reading “The Pet Goat” with second grade students at Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota County, Florida. Bush told the commissioners that he had seen the first plane hit but thought it was an accident. “He recalled that he and others thought the building had been hit by a twin engine plane. He remembered thinking, what a terrible pilot.” Soon after the second plane hit the south tower of the World Trade Center at 9:03 a.m., chief of staff Andy Card approached Bush as he sat listening to the students reciting more passages from “The Pet Goat” and informed him that it appeared the U.S. was under attack.

The commissioners asked the commander-in-chief why he continued to sit in the classroom. “He was trying to absorb the news. He remembered a child, or someone, reading. He remembered watching the press pool and noticing them . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 November 2022 at 4:37 pm

What Russian trolls can tell us about the US

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Anand Giridharadas writes in the Atlantic (no paywall):

n june 2014, Aleksandra Krylova and Anna Bogacheva arrived in the United States on a clandestine mission. Krylova was a high-ranking official at the Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg, Russia, an ostensibly private company that was connected with Russian intelligence. Bogacheva, her road buddy, a researcher and data cruncher, was more junior. Their trip had been well plotted: a transcontinental itinerary, SIM cards, burner phones, cameras, visas obtained under the pretense of personal travel, and, just in case, evacuation plans.

The women made stops in California, Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, and Texas, according to a federal indictment issued years later. Beyond that, their activities are not well known. Their mission, however, is now public knowledge: to gather evidence of conditions in the United States for a project to destabilize its political system and society, using the rather improbable weapon of millions of social-media posts.

In their long conflict with the United States, officials in Russia have many tools of sabotage available to them. But the major investment in the social-media project seemed to reflect a calculation that, of all the vulnerabilities of modern American society, its internal fracturing—countryside against city, niece against uncle, Black against white—was a particular weakness.

Russia’s Internet Research Agency, or IRA, had been founded in 2013 as an industrial troll farm, where workers were paid to write blog posts, comments on news sites, and social-media messages. Late that summer, a job posting appeared online. “Internet operators wanted!” it read, according to the newspaper Novaya Gazeta. “Task: posting comments at profile sites on the Internet, writing thematic posts, blogs, social networks.” Plus: “PAYMENTS EVERY WEEK AND FREE MEALS!!!”

Hundreds of workers toiled in 12-hour shifts at the IRA offices on 55 Savushkina Street. Each had to manage multiple fake accounts and produce message after message—reportedly three posts a day per account if Facebook was their medium, or 50 on Twitter. Managers issued detailed instructions about content and obsessed over page views, likes, and retweets.

In the years ahead, the agency would write more than 6 million tweets, and its posts would attract 76 million engagements on Facebook and 183 million on Instagram. Some posts were outright disinformation; others sought to whip up anger at the truth. But their common aim was to amplify the worst cultural tendencies of an age of division: writing other people off, assuming they would never change their mind, and viewing those who thought differently as needing to be resisted rather than won over.

When the IRA’s project became public knowledge, a simplistic, if seductive, story line grew up around it. “Yes, Russian Trolls Helped Elect Trump: Social media lies have real-world consequences,” read the headline of a Michelle Goldberg column in The New York Times. Aiding Donald Trump was indeed among the IRA’s objectives, but it wasn’t the mission’s focus. “The story of Russian interference was a really damaging crutch for the imagination,” the Russian American writer Masha Gessen told me not long ago. “It was something that allowed us to think about Trump as somebody from outer space—or at least from Russia—as a kind of alien body, but also an alien body from which we’re somehow miraculously going to be liberated.”

In time, a more sobering analysis emerged. The Russian mission, far from dropping something on America from outer space, had been to fertilize behaviors already flourishing on American soil. “The IRA’s goals are to further widen existing divisions in the American public and decrease our faith and trust in institutions that help maintain a strong democracy,” Darren Linvill and Patrick Warren, scholars at Clemson University who became prominent analysts of Russia’s campaign, have written. “The IRA has used Trump—and many other politicians—as vehicles to further these twin goals, but it is not about Trump himself.” A report by the research firm New Knowledge provided to Senate investigators described similar goals: “to undermine citizens’ trust in government, exploit societal fractures, create distrust in the information environment, blur the lines between reality and fiction, undermine trust among communities, and erode confidence in the democratic process.”

When I began to read the posts myself, I saw even more clearly how the Russians had gone about this work. They had done more than fan the flames of division. They had encouraged the view that the basic activity of democratic life—the changing of minds—had become futile. The troll farm wanted Americans to regard people with different views as immovable, brainwashed, disloyal, repulsive. “The IRA knows that in political warfare disgust is a much more powerful tool than anger,” Linvill and Warren wrote. “Anger drives people to the polls; disgust drives countries apart.”

Americans didn’t need outside help to see one another in these ways. The culture of the write-off, of mutual contempt and dismissal, could be found everywhere you looked. If anything, this attitude was a rare point of commonality across left and right. The ease with which the Russian government exploited these tendencies is frightening, but it also, perhaps, points to a way out: If Americans are so easily manipulated in the direction of enmity and sniping and rage, might they also be more open to persuasion than we tend to assume? If Russian trolls could pull us apart, can we bring ourselves back together? [I am reminded about the nursery rhyme about Humpty Dumpty. – LG]

rystal johnson is an actual person, a real-estate agent in Georgia. I spoke with her once on the phone. When I explained that I was looking into how her identity had been stolen and weaponized by Russian intelligence, she hung up and stopped answering my calls.

Johnson tweeted occasionally under the handle @CrystalSellsLA. Her profile photo shows a Black woman in her 30s or 40s with short blond hair. She’s smiling widely, dressed crisply in a black blazer and a white shirt. She looks like someone you would trust to find you a home. She posted a combination of real-estate insights and inspirational quotations. “Resale homes sales R up,” she wrote back in 2012. “As we learned from the recent bubble that burst, a healthy housing market puts many pairs of hands to work.” On another occasion: “Good morning! There is so much we have to be thankful for.” Even Heracleitus made a cameo: “The content of your character is your choice. Day by day, what you choose, what you think and what you do is who you become.”

In February of that year, a Twitter account with the handle @Crystal1Johnson began to tweet—and it tweeted precisely what @CrystalSellsLA was tweeting. On the first day of 2013, the real Crystal Johnson wished the world Happy New Year—as did her clone. That would be nearly the end of its mimicry, though. The account went silent for two years. And then suddenly it became one of the most influential accounts operated by the IRA’s troll farm.

The second week of December 2015 was tense. Trump, still a relatively new presidential candidate, had proposed “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.” Political observers started saying that

Continue reading. (no paywall) 

Written by Leisureguy

6 October 2022 at 3:38 pm

Politics in the US today: Violence and threats of violence, hatred laced with obscenities

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Given what America is becoming, it is no wonder that many Americans are working on a plan B (gift link, no paywall) — to what country they can go if things get worse. And things are bad. Ashley Fetters Maloy reports in the Washington Post (gift link, no paywall) about how one person has threatened a US Representative in Seattle:

10:38 p.m.

Everyone could hear the men on the street. The car, a black Dodge Challenger with gold rims, sped down the block, just past the congresswoman’s house. Two voices shot through the dark. “HEY, PRAMILA,” the first man shouted. “F— YOUUUUU.” Then came the second: “F— you, c—!”

The neighbors knew the car. It was the same Dodge Challenger they had seen several times that summer. But Pramila Jayapal didn’t know this yet.

She was on the couch, watching the psychological thriller “Mindhunter” with her husband, Steve Williamson. It was July 9 in Arbor Heights, a West Seattle neighborhood laid out in neat sweeps of grass and pavement. They paused the show. Williamson got up and went outside. The items on the porch sat undisturbed: sneakers, turquoise Crocs, a dog leash, two hanging plants swaying in the night air. Then they heard the men again. Security footage picked up what the men said and the sound of heavy-metal music coming from the car. One shouted something about “India,” the country where Jayapal was born. The voices were hard and clear. “F—ing c—,” one of them said.

“Tell Pramila to kill herself — then we’ll stop, motherf—er.” Then came a honk. Then another long “F— YOUUUUU.” On the porch, Williamson waved an index finger and went back inside. The men drove off.

Inside, Jayapal picked up her phone and dialed 911. But when she saw the car leave, she hung up before it could connect. Maybe she should contact the Capitol Police, the D.C. agency that protects members of Congress. She wasn’t sure. Maybe she had been doxed. There had been instances of obscene yelling at the house that summer, this she knew. She had reported those to Capitol Police. But she didn’t know then what dozens of pages of police reports and court filings would later reveal — that one of her visitors that night had been there before, in the same Dodge Challenger. She didn’t know that he had driven by her house between three and seven times since late June, or that the other male voice that night belonged to his adult son, as he would later tell investigators. She didn’t know that from the house across the street, her neighbor had seen the Dodge earlier that same evening, or that down the block, another neighbor had seen it, too, just a week before. She didn’t know that the man in the Dodge had emailed her congressional office back in January, to express his distaste for her political party, and for her, the 56-year-old three-term Democrat from Seattle, the chair of the House Progressive Caucus and a high-profile antagonist to Donald Trump.

“I am a freedom loving nonregistered libertarian who votes in every election no matter how big or small,” the man wrote in his email.

“You, Pramila, are an anti-American s—pit creating Marxist.”

“We are incompatible.”

Jayapal didn’t know that his distaste would mutate into action. When she heard the yelling stop, when the men drove off into the night, she had no idea that one of them would be back a half-hour later to yell some more, and that he’d have a loaded .40-caliber semiautomatic pistol on his hip, later seized by police.

On paper, at least, the whole thing was over in 47 minutes. But the anatomy of political violence is more tangled than the events of a single case. Threats against members of Congress have risen year after year, according to data from the Capitol Police: 9,625 in 2021, up from 3,939 in 2017. Officers logged nearly 2,000 cases in the first three months of this year alone. Among the statistics, there are thousands of stories like Jayapal’s, each one unraveling with its own special complexity in the lives and homes of elected officials. . .

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall) It’s a lengthy article and it shows what the US has become and the overt threat from the Right.

At the link, you can hear an audio of some of the messages Jayapal receives.

Written by Leisureguy

10 September 2022 at 12:49 pm

Saudi woman given 34-year prison sentence for using Twitter

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And, lest we forget, 15 of 19 terrorists responsible for the 9/11 attacks were Saudi nationals — just under 80%. And, of course, Saudi Arabia’s leader, Mohammed bin Salman, had a Washington Post journalist murdered and dismembered because MBS did not like what the journalist wrote. Saudi Arabia has a God-awful culture.

Stephanie Kirchgaessner reports in the Guardian:

A Saudi student at Leeds University who had returned home to the kingdom for a holiday has been sentenced to 34 years in prison for having a Twitter account and for following and retweeting dissidents and activists.

The sentencing by Saudi’s special terrorist court was handed down weeks after the US president Joe Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia, which human rights activists had warned could embolden the kingdom to escalate its crackdown on dissidents and other pro-democracy activists.

The case also marks the latest example of how the crown prince Mohammed bin Salman has targeted Twitter users in his campaign of repression, while simultaneously controlling a major indirect stake in the US social media company through Saudi’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF).

Salma al-Shehab, 34, a mother of two young children, was initially sentenced to serve three years in prison for the “crime” of using an internet website to “cause public unrest and destabilise civil and national security”. But an appeals court on Monday handed down the new sentence – 34 years in prison followed by a 34-year travel ban – after a public prosecutor asked the court to consider other alleged crimes.

According to a translation of the court records, which were seen by the Guardian, the new charges include the allegation that Shehab was “assisting those who seek to cause public unrest and destabilise civil and national security by following their Twitter accounts” and by re-tweeting their tweets. It is believed that Shehab may still be able to seek a new appeal in the case.

By all accounts, Shehab was not a leading or especially vocal Saudi activist, either inside the kingdom or in the UK. She described herself on Instagram – where she had 159 followers – as a dental hygienist, medical educator, PhD student at Leeds University and lecturer at Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University, and as a wife and a mother to her sons, Noah and Adam.

Her Twitter profile showed she had 2,597 followers. Among tweets about Covid burnout and pictures of her young children, Shehab sometimes retweeted tweets by Saudi dissidents living in exile, which called for the release of political prisoners in the kingdom. She seemed to . . .

Continue reading. The Saudi government seems to operate on principles of terrorism.

Later in the article (and do read the whole thing):

Twitter declined to comment on the case and did not respond to specific questions about what – if any – influence Saudi Arabia has over the company. Twitter previously did not respond to questions by the Guardian about why a senior aide to Prince Mohammed, Bader al-Asaker, has been allowed to keep a verified Twitter account with more than 2 million followers, despite US government allegations that he orchestrated an illegal infiltration of the company which led anonymous Twitter users to be identified and jailed by the Saudi government. One former Twitter employee has been convicted by a US court in connection to the case.

One of Twitter’s biggest investors is the Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who owns more than 5% of Twitter through his investment company, Kingdom Holdings. While Prince Alwaleed still serves as chairman of the company, his control over the group faced questions in the US media, including the Wall Street Journal, after it emerged that the Saudi royal – a cousin of the crown prince – had been held captive at the Ritz Carlton in Riyadh for 83 days. The incident was part of a broader purge led by Prince Mohammed against other members of the royal family and businessmen, and involved allegations of torture, coercion and expropriation of billions in assets into Saudi coffers.

The Trumps are good friends of MBS.

Written by Leisureguy

17 August 2022 at 1:56 pm

The Psychology of Killing

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Perhaps it’s an artefact of the algorithms of the streaming services I watch, but TV series involving murder seem to be amazingly easy to fine — not perhaps so common as grass, but maybe as common as roses. In fact, just last night I watched a movie based on a George V. Higgins novel, Cogan’s Trade (which was a sequel to his first novel, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, both eminently worth reading). The 2012 movie, Killing Them Softly, starred Brad Pitt, Richard Jenkins, Ray Liotta, and James Gandolfini, and it was a good watch. (It’s on Primevideo.com up here; apparently not available right now in the US.)

So what causes killing to be so common? FiveBooks.com has an interesting interview with Gwen Adshead, a forensic psychiatrist and psychotherapist who works in prisons and secure psychiatric hospital providing therapy to violence perpetrators who have mental health problems. In the course of the interview Dr. Adshead recommends five books, as the site name suggests. The interview begins:

Let’s start by looking at the topic you’ve chosen: the psychology of killing. How did you become interested in this area?

I’m a forensic psychiatrist and psychotherapist. A forensic psychiatrist is someone who specialises in the assessment and treatment of people who have offended while they were in some kind of abnormal mental state. There are two questions there: first, the legal question—does this abnormal state affect their legal responsibility?—and secondly, if the offender is mentally ill, do they need to be treated in secure hospital rather than go to prison?. That treatment will be designed to look not only at their mental health, but also their risk to the public.

Mental health problems are rarely a risk factor for crime generally, so a forensic psychiatrist won’t be dealing with people who are committing minor crimes, like shoplifting . We tend only to get involved in crimes of violence, and usually where that violence has been fatal. So most of my working life has involved assessing people who have committed serious acts of violence, or who are threatening to do so. For a long time I ran a therapy group for people who had killed a family member while they were mentally ill. I’ve also been involved in assessing mothers who have been abusive, or are considered at risk of abusing their children.

So this has been my bread and butter for about thirty years—an interest in the mental states that give rise to killing.

The obvious question, to me, is: if one commits murder, does that not indicate that, almost by definition, that the assailant is undergoing an abnormal mental state?

That question has always been of great significance, and one that humans have asked themselves for thousands of years. What is fascinating about humans is the many ways in which we do kill each other. We are one of the few animals that kill each other in different ways. Chimpanzees, for example, do have very serious fights, competitions over power, which can be fatal. And chimpanzee tribes can wage war on other chimpanzee tribes, killing in the process. But killing in the way that we kill appears to be pretty unique. Killing over territory is one thing, but we also kill over money, over politics and in the context of relationship disturbance; and that last context is quite unusual.

For as long as we have had recorded data about humans, we’ve written about the impact of murder. I don’t think there’s legislation in any culture in any age which hasn’t set aside some kind of law or ruling about how and when you can kill somebody, and what should happen to people who kill.

Take the Old Testament. There are rules in there about killing that are very specific. The Ten Commandments separate killing from murder, for example. Traditionally, in many cultures, if you killed somebody, you had to make restitution to their family. That didn’t always mean being killed yourself. Different countries and ethnic groups have had different rules, but all human societies have developed rules about killing, in what circumstances it might be legitimate to kill, and what punishments and sanctions there should be for the different kinds of killing.

The first thing to say about homicide is that it is not all the same. I think that’s one of the things I didn’t understand when I started out. Like anybody else, I thought that all killers must be really odd or mad. That if you killed once, you must be permanently in a homicidal state of mind. But once I began to spend time with people who had killed, I learned that killing is often highly contextual and arises from a specific set factors that are present at that time; which may never occur again. Someone who’s killed their wife in a jealous rage is not likely to be a threat to the general public; although they might be dangerous to future wives, of course.

So does that mean that everyone has the capacity for murder? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

9 August 2022 at 3:10 pm

Inside an international network of teenage neo-Nazi extremists

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Nick Robins Early, Alexander Nabert, and Christina Brause report in Insider:

Last year, a 20-year-old named Christian Michael Mackey arrived at the Phillips 66 gas station in Grand Prairie, Texas, hoping to sell his AM-15 rifle to make some quick cash. He’d said he wanted to buy a more powerful gun, something that could stop what he called a “hoard of you know what.”

Mackey told an online group chat he’d started looking at Nazi websites at around 15-years-old, when he began spending hours on white nationalist message boards and talking to other extremists on Instagram and encrypted messaging apps like Telegram. Five years later, he was active in a network of violent neo-Nazi groups that organized and communicated through online group chats. He described himself as a “radical Jew slayer.”

When Mackey met his buyer in the gas-station parking lot in January 2021, he didn’t know he had walked into a sting. The woman purchasing his rifle was a paid FBI source with numerous felonies, and Mackey was arrested as soon as the gun changed hands. At his detention hearing a month later, an FBI agent said authorities had found a pipe bomb in Mackey’s parents’ house, where he lived.

Mackey’s stepfather told local news soon after the arrest that his stepson had been radicalized online, and footage showed him ripping up a copy of “Mein Kampf” in Mackey’s bedroom. FBI records and court documents indicated that Mackey had posted more than 2,400 messages in one neo-Nazi Instagram group chat alone, and had told another user “I’m just trying to live long enough to die attacking.”

Stories like this have increasingly played out across the US and around the world in recent years — young people, overwhelmingly white and male, who have become involved in a global network of neo-Nazi extremist groups that plot mass violence online.

Canadian authorities earlier this year arrested a 19-year-old on terrorism charges after they say he tried to join a neo-Nazi group similar to the ones Mackey was involved in. In April, a 15-year-old in Denmark was charged with recruiting for a neo-Nazi organization banned in the country. A 16-year-old became the UK’s youngest terrorism offender after joining that same group, where he researched terror manuals and discussed how to make explosives. Others made it further along in their plots, like a 21-year-old who planted a bomb outside the Western Union office in Lithuania’s capital, Vilnius.

As far-right extremism has grown over the past decade, so too has the notoriety of various groups and their leaders. Far-right gangs such as the Proud Boys as well as suit-and-tie-wearing white nationalists like Richard Spencer regularly make headlines. But there are also lesser-known groups with more directly violent aims that follow an ideology called accelerationism — the belief that carrying out bombings, mass shootings, and other attacks is necessary to hasten the collapse of society and allow a white ethnostate to rise in its place.

Countries including the United Kingdom and Canada have designated accelerationist groups such as Atomwaffen Division, Feuerkrieg Division and The Base as terrorist organizations. Atomwaffen, which is now largely defunct, was linked to at least five murders in the US alone. The Base’s leader was sentenced in May to four years in prison after plotting to kill minorities and instigate a race war.

Experts trace the origins of groups like these to a neo-Nazi website called Iron March that went offline in 2017, and which notoriously helped extremists from many countries forge international connections and spread accelerationist propaganda.

The ideology has been linked to the 2019 Christchurch massacre in New Zealand, where a white nationalist killed 51 people at two mosques while livestreaming the attack online, and a shooting earlier this year at a supermarket in Buffalo, NY where 10 people were killed.

As part of a joint investigation that Insider undertook with Welt Am Sonntag and Politico, reporters gained access to two dozen internal chat groups linked to a broader network of neo-Nazi accelerationists. Comprising 98,000 messages from about 900 users, the data includes photos, videos, text, and voice messages.

Various participants in the groups have been charged with a range of crimes related to plots to bomb or burn down synagogues and gay bars, attack anti-fascist activists, and illegally traffic firearms. In chat logs that reporters reviewed, members showed off homemade explosives, encouraged one another to kill minorities, and discussed how to get access to weapons.

The scores of messages and propaganda in these chats provide a glimpse into one of the most dangerous corners of modern far-right extremism. It is increasingly international, intent on radicalizing young people, and committed to using violence to further its fascist ideology.

Rather than a centralized group, it is a loosely connected network that rises and falls as its members are killed or arrested — but never seems to entirely go away. And unlike extremist groups that want to integrate their beliefs into political parties or run for local office, the aim of accelerationist groups like these is primarily to create violent chaos. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 July 2022 at 4:57 pm

“The Wrath to Come: Gone with the Wind and the Lies America Tells,” by Sarah Churchill

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Alex von Tunzelmann reviews Sarah Churchill’s book The Wrath to Come in Literary Review:

The night before Gone with the Wind’s Atlanta premiere in 1939, there was a ball at a plantation. Dressed as slaves, the children of the black Ebenezer Baptist Church choir performed for an all-white audience. They sang ‘There’s Plenty of Good Room in Heaven’; the actress playing Belle Watling, Rhett Butler’s tart with a heart, wept. The scene is already striking: a painfully literal example of the mythologising of the South for white consumption, redefining slavery as harmless and the slaves themselves as grateful. Yet Sarah Churchwell finds a jaw-dropping detail: ‘One of the little Black children dressed as a slave and bringing a sentimental tear to white America’s eye was a ten-year-old boy named Martin Luther King, Jr, who would be dead in thirty years for daring to dream of racial equality in America.’

Churchwell has written about American mythology before, notably in Behold America: A History of America First and the American Dream, as well as in works on Marilyn Monroe and The Great Gatsby. This time it feels like she has hit the motherlode: ‘The heart of the [American] myth, as well as its mind and its nervous system, most of its arguments and beliefs, its loves and hates, its lies and confusions and defence mechanisms and wish fulfilments, are all captured (for the most part inadvertently) in America’s most famous epic romance.’ For Churchwell, ‘Gone with the Wind provides a kind of skeleton key, unlocking America’s illusions about itself.’

This is a bold claim – but Gone with the Wind was, and remains, a phenomenon like no other. Published in June 1936, Margaret Mitchell’s novel sold a million copies before the end of that year, won the 1937 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and became the bestselling American novel of all time. Even now, it shifts 300,000 copies annually. In 1939, a film version was released, starring Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara and Clark Gable as Rhett Butler. Adjusted for inflation, it is the highest-grossing film of all time, ahead of Avatar and Titanic. In 2020, when the South Korean film Parasite – a biting satire on capitalism – won the Academy Award for Best Picture, President Donald Trump expressed his displeasure: ‘What the hell was that all about?’ he asked a rally in Colorado. ‘Can we get like Gone with the Wind back please?’ As usual, his audience understood exactly what he meant.

If the idea that one book and film can be the skeleton key to a whole culture seems simplistic, Churchwell swiftly begins to pile up startling evidence in short, pithy chapters. Race, gender, the Lost Cause, the American Dream, blood-and-soil fascism, the prison-industrial complex, a Trumpist mob storming the Capitol in 2021: it’s all here, and it’s all bound up with the themes of Gone with the Wind. Mythmaking is not just the building of fantasies but also the erasure of truth. The genocide of native peoples, for instance, is not in the book or film, but it was taking place at just the time that Gerald O’Hara would have been acquiring land in Georgia: ‘Scarlett’s beloved Tara is built upon land that was stolen from indigenous Americans a mere decade before her birth.’ Churchwell cuts through these thorny subjects with a propulsive assurance. Her writing is an extraordinary blend of wit, intellectual agility and forcefulness: it’s like being swept along by an extremely smart bulldozer.

Churchwell doesn’t flinch from the horrors that Gone with the Wind belies. The book and film propagate the Lost Cause myth, portraying the South as a place of chivalry, slavery as benevolent and the members of the Ku Klux Klan as honourable men stepping up as the world around them collapses. Churchwell shows us how these myths were constructed from the end of the Civil War onwards, and congealed seventy years later into Gone with the Wind. The reality of the reassertion of white supremacy during and after Reconstruction was, as Churchwell shows, horrific: there is some deeply upsetting material here on the terrorisation of both black people and those whites who did not comply with supremacist social codes. Lynchings were advertised in advance in local newspapers, ‘just as a fun fair or circus might have been’. A typical headline from 1905: ‘Will Burn Negro: Officers Will Probably Not Interfere in Texas’. Eight people were lynched in the year of Gone with the Wind’s publication.

‘Most defences of Gone with the Wind hold that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

16 July 2022 at 9:52 am

‘They are preparing for war’: An expert on civil wars discusses where political extremists are taking this country

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I came across the Washington Post interview below (gift link, no paywall) via a Facebook post by Rebecca Solnit, who extracted some of the article:

The CIA also has a manual on insurgency. You can Google it and find it online.

[See “Guide to the Analysis of Insurgency” (PDF), which seems to be the manual she has in mind. See also:  “Estimating State Instability” (PDF). See also this page on the Wilson Center website: “Political Instability Task Force: New Findings” (2004) – LG]

Most of it is not redacted. And it’s absolutely fascinating to read. It’s not a big manual. And it was written, I’m sure, to help the U.S. government identify very, very early stages of insurgency. So if something’s happening in the Philippines, or something’s happening in Indonesia. You know, what are signs that we should be looking out for?

And the manual talks about three stages. And the first stage is . . .

The Washinton Post interview is from March 8, 2022, and was done by KK Ottesen (and again: that’s a gift link). The quoted passage above is taken from the interview, which begins:

Barbara F. Walter, 57, is a political science professor at the University of California at San Diego and the author of “How Civil Wars Start: And How to Stop Them,” which was released in January. She lives in San Diego with her husband.

Having studied civil wars all over the world, and the conditions that give rise to them, you argue in your book, somewhat chillingly, that the United States is coming dangerously close to those conditions. Can you explain that?

So we actually know a lot about civil wars — how they start, how long they last, why they’re so hard to resolve, how you end them. And we know a lot because since 1946, there have been over 200 major armed conflicts. And for the last 30 years, people have been collecting a lot of data, analyzing the data, looking at patterns. I’ve been one of those people.

We went from thinking, even as late as the 1980s, that every one of these was unique. And the way people studied it is they would be a Somalia expert, a Yugoslavia expert, a Tajikistan expert. And everybody thought their case was unique and that you could draw no parallels. Then methods and computers got better, and people like me came and could collect data and analyze it. And what we saw is that there are lots of patterns at the macro level.

In 1994, the U.S. government put together this Political Instability Task Force. They were interested in trying to predict what countries around the world were going to become unstable, potentially fall apart, experience political violence and civil war.

Was that out of the State Department?

That was done through the CIA. And the task force was a mix of academics, experts on conflict, and data analysts. And basically what they wanted was: In all of your research, tell us what you think seems to be important. What should we be considering when we’re thinking about the lead-up to civil wars?

Originally the model included over 30 different factors, like poverty, income inequality, how diverse religiously or ethnically a country was. But only two factors came out again and again as highly predictive. And it wasn’t what people were expecting, even on the task force. We were surprised. The first was this variable called anocracy. There’s this nonprofit based in Virginia called the Center for Systemic Peace. And every year it measures all sorts of things related to the quality of the governments around the world. How autocratic or how democratic a country is. And it has this scale that goes from negative 10 to positive 10. Negative 10 is the most authoritarian, so think about North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain. Positive 10 are the most democratic. This, of course, is where you want to be. This would be Denmark, Switzerland, Canada. The U.S. was a positive 10 for many, many years. It’s no longer a positive 10. And then it has this middle zone between positive 5 and negative 5, which was you had features of both. If you’re a positive 5, you have more democratic features, but definitely have a few authoritarian elements. And, of course, if you’re negative 5, you have more authoritarian features and a few democratic elements. The U.S. was briefly downgraded to a 5 and is now an 8.

And what scholars found was that this anocracy variable was really predictive of a risk for civil war. That full democracies almost never have civil wars. Full autocracies rarely have civil wars. All of the instability and violence is happening in this middle zone. And there’s all sorts of theories why this middle zone is unstable, but one of the big ones is that these governments tend to be weaker. They’re transitioning to either actually becoming more democratic, and so some of the authoritarian features are loosening up. The military is giving up control. And so it’s easier to organize a challenge. Or, these are democracies that are backsliding, and there’s a sense that these governments are not that legitimate, people are unhappy with these governments. There’s infighting. There’s jockeying for power. And so they’re weak in their own ways. Anyway, that turned out to be highly predictive.

And then the second factor was whether populations in these partial democracies began to organize politically, not around ideology — so, not based on whether you’re a communist or not a communist, or you’re a liberal or a conservative — but where the parties themselves were based almost exclusively around identity: ethnic, religious or racial identity. The quintessential example of this is what happened in the former Yugoslavia.

So for you, personally, what was the moment the ideas began to connect, and you thought: Wait a minute, I see these patterns in my country right now?

My dad is from Germany. He was born in 1932 and lived through the war there, and he emigrated here in 1958. He had been a Republican his whole life, you know; we had the Reagan calendar in the kitchen every year.

And starting in early 2016, I would go home to visit, and my dad — he doesn’t agitate easily, but he was so agitated. All he wanted to do was talk about Trump and what he was seeing happening. He was really nervous. It was almost visceral — like, he was reliving the past. Every time I’d go home, he was just, like, “Please tell me Trump’s not going to win.” And I would tell him, “Dad, Trump is not going to win.” And he’s just, like, “I don’t believe you; I saw this once before. And I’m seeing it again, and the Republicans, they’re just falling in lockstep behind him.” He was so nervous.

I remember saying: “Dad, what’s really different about America today from Germany in the 1930s is that our democracy is really strong. Our institutions are strong. So, even if you had a Trump come into power, the institutions would hold strong.” Of course, then Trump won. We would have these conversations where my dad would draw all these parallels. The brownshirts and the attacks on the media and the attacks on education and on books. And he’s just, like, I’m seeing it. I’m seeing it all again here. And that’s really what shook me out of my complacency, that here was this man who is very well educated and astute, and he was shaking with fear. And I was like, Am I being naive to think that we’re different?

That’s when I started to follow the data. And then, watching what happened to the Republican Party really was the bigger surprise — that, wow, they’re doubling down on this almost white supremacist strategy. That’s a losing strategy in a democracy. So why would they do that? Okay, it’s worked for them since the ’60s and ’70s, but you can’t turn back demographics. And then I was like, Oh my gosh. The only way this is a winning strategy is if you begin to weaken the institutions; this is the pattern we see in other countries. And, as an American citizen I’m like, These two factors are emerging here, and people don’t know.

So I gave a talk at UCSD about this — and it was a complete bomb. Not . . .

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

7 July 2022 at 9:11 pm

How right-wing Republicans will take over the US in 2024

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The following scenario seems not at all unlikely, given what we have seen in the past few years.

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Click the link and read the thread.

Written by Leisureguy

2 July 2022 at 9:15 pm

The Killing of Shireen Abu Akleh: Tracing a Bullet to an Israeli Convoy

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Raja Abdulrahim, Patrick Kingsley, Christiaan Triebert, and Hiba Yazbek have a compelling (and chilling) report (gift link, no paywall) in the NY Times:

The journalists thought they were safe.

Several blocks away, a gunfight between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian men had just stopped. Hoping to interview witnesses, the group of reporters headed down the street toward an Israeli military convoy. Among them was Shireen Abu Akleh, a veteran Palestinian-American television correspondent.

Suddenly, six bullets flew toward them, and they ran for cover. Ms. Abu Akleh crouched next to a carob tree.

Seven more shots rang out.

“Is anyone injured?” a bystander, Sleem Awad, yelled, before seeing Ms. Abu Akleh slumped facedown on the ground. “Shireen! Shireen!” he shouted, having recognized the well-known journalist. “Oh man, Shireen!”

Palestinian officials said Ms. Abu Akleh was intentionally killed early on May 11 in the West Bank city of Jenin by an Israeli soldier. Israeli officials said a soldier might have shot her by mistake but also suggested that she might have been killed by a Palestinian gunman. The Israeli Army’s preliminary investigation concluded that it was “not possible to unequivocally determine the source of the gunfire.”

A monthlong investigation by The New York Times found that the bullet that killed Ms. Abu Akleh was fired from the approximate location of the Israeli military convoy, most likely by a soldier from an elite unit.

The evidence reviewed by The Times showed that there were no armed Palestinians near her when she was shot. It contradicted Israeli claims that, if a soldier had mistakenly killed her, it was because he had been shooting at a Palestinian gunman.

The Times investigation also showed that 16 shots were fired from the location of the Israeli convoy, as opposed to Israeli claims that the soldier had fired five bullets in the journalists’ direction. The Times found no evidence that the person who fired recognized Ms. Abu Akleh and targeted her personally. The Times was unable to determine whether the shooter saw that she and her colleagues were wearing protective vests emblazoned with the word Press.

A Palestinian-American correspondent for Al Jazeera, Ms. Abu Akleh, 51, was a household name in the Middle East. She had reported on the Israel-Palestinian conflict and Israel’s occupation of the West Bank for more than two decades. Now, she was the latest casualty.

Her killing drew global outrage, and for Palestinians it came to embody the dangers and frustrations of living under Israeli military occupation. Palestinian deaths rarely attract international scrutiny, and soldiers accused of crimes against Palestinians in the West Bank are rarely convicted.

Ms. Abu Akleh had come to Jenin that day to cover Israel’s ongoing military raids on the city.

In the weeks leading up to that day, a wave of Palestinian attacks had killed 19 Israelis and foreigners, and some of the attackers had come from the Jenin region. In response, the Israeli military launched a series of raids into Jenin, sometimes to make arrests, and the soldiers were often met with Palestinian gunfire.

As the sun was rising on May 11, another raid was kicking off.

At about 5 a.m.,  . . .

Continue reading (gift link, no paywall).

Written by Leisureguy

20 June 2022 at 6:58 pm

Why We Must Cultivate Imagination to Fight the Rise of Fascism

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Dave Troy (his website) is worth listening to. Here’s a recent article he published on Medium:

This week I was in the beautiful city of Brussels, Belgium meeting up with friends and colleagues — many of whom I hadn’t seen in over two years. It was a great opportunity to reset, gain some wisdom, and also learn more about what’s going on in information warfare globally. I attended the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensics Lab 360/Open Summit event, which included a wide range of experts including US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Nobel Peace Prize Winner Maria Ressa.

I was able to synthesize an assessment of where things might go, in combination with my own views and research, and, well… it’s not pretty. But there are things we can do, and reasons to have hope. Here’s a rough overview of what we might expect:

  • Putin will weaponize food shortages, inflation, fuel prices, and refugee flows. As fuel prices rise, so will food prices. This will cause widespread starvation in Africa, which will launch a flow of refugees from Africa into Europe, similar to what happened in 2015 but at a larger scale. This will trigger all manner of xenophobia in Europe and help weaken resolve. Germany, France, Italy, Turkey, and Hungary are already wobbly with respect to Ukraine support, for a variety of historical reasons. (Remnants of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, Italian north-south rivalries, and a longing for the restoration of the Austro-Hungarian empire loom large, and just beneath the surface). Ukraine and Europe are also running out of ammunition, making the conflict entirely dependent on US supplies against Russia and China supplies.
  • It never was about NATO, and there is no off-ramp. Yesterday, Putin made a speech wherein he likened himself to Peter the Great, and suggested that Russia’s action in Ukraine was merely a case of Russia reclaiming what was rightfully theirs. He is a Tsarist, and aims to recapture or colonize any territory that suits his imagination.
  • The United States may descend into civil unrest, or revolution. Oil and gas cartels may push fuel prices as high as $10 per gallon in the US. This would clearly signify a new high-water mark and could usher in a wave of civil unrest. Biden will be blamed for this, even though fuel prices will rise globally, and it has nothing to do with him. Food prices will likewise go up dramatically, as there is little practical difference between food and fuel (both are energy). Banks are predicting that middle class Americans may have trouble paying for essentials like food and fuel, and are planning for ‘imminent’ and unprecedented civil unrest, according to a report obtained by The Byline Times. Given that this would help fulfill goals of the fascist international, we should expect that Republicans and their allies will be pushing this forward at every opportunity.
  • Ukraine war will become a years-long war of attrition. Putin will use chaos in Europe and the US to undermine support for Ukraine and continue to throw raw resources and personnel, despite lack of training, at wearing down the situation there. A low-yield nuclear strike against targets in Western Ukraine is a distinct possibility — perhaps Lviv, which would limit easterly fallout affecting Russia — and would have the effect of activating “anti-war” activists in Europe and the US. This “Fifth Column” could be very effective given this new demonstration of force (and lack of judgment) in eroding continued support for Ukraine.
  • If Ukraine falls, the Baltics, Poland, and Balkans will be the next targets. Russia can only be stopped if it is unequivocally defeated. If it is not, it will regroup (with its allies China and India) and resume information warfare then kinetic warfare against all its adjacent territories. The Baltics are very clearly in its sights already and will be attacked without question, unless stopped. Poland and much of the Balkan states are not far behind. While this may sound implausible because of how weak Russia seems right now, it is thinking in terms of the ~3 billion people represented by Russia, China, India, Brazil (et al) vs. the ~1 billion people represented by NATO. While that’s an apples to oranges comparison, the overall scales involved make the matching more even than it might seem on the surface.
  • China may become more aggressive as it faces internal threats. China faces a demographic bomb as its population ages. Its single child policy means an elderly population will soon be gone, and it will face a shrinking population. China’s GDP is heavily dependent (around 30%) on overhyped real-estate schemes, many of which will never be occupied. The conflict with Taiwan continues to simmer and will eventually come to a head, creating a strategic threat against global production of integrated circuit chips. China is beginning to become more aggressive with its information warfare, and starting to threaten Australia. The historic Kuomintang network which seems to be associated with Guo Wengui and Steve Bannon is preparing itself as “shock troops” to take over when the CCP falls. While that may be fantasy, the situation definitely has elements of instability that should be closely monitored.
  • Russia is increasing its aggression towards Japan over the Kuril Islands. The islands in Northern Japan, an important fishing ground, have been contested since World War II. Russia is threatening Japan, suggesting that it will return the islands to their control if Tokyo distances itself from the United States and the West. So far, this play has not been working, but they are continuing to become ever more aggressive in pushing Japan in this direction. Aleksandr Dugin sees Japan as part of the Russian sphere of influence and wishes to drive Japan apart from Western influence.
  • We are dealing with a resurgence of individualism and propertarianism. Whether talking about “sovereign citizen” lunacy, or “sovereign individual” bitcoin fantasies, the propertarian legacy of slave ownership, or gold fetishists in Vienna longing for the restoration of the Austro-Hungarian empire, we are dealing with a resurgence of interest in hierarchy and its very close cousins, white supremacy and eugenics. The idea that money confers reproductive fitness is a recurring theme, even as it is nonsense, and we should be prepared, once again, to combat it.
  • In the end, this resolves to one key conflict: carbon fuels. Carbon fuel producers really don’t want to stop producing carbon fuel; they have massive, long term investments they wish to productively amortize over a decades or centuries. Pesky democracies that want to shut down the party now are ultimately a minor annoyance. Converting energy flows into influence — by purchasing politicians, organizations, and capturing government — is straightforward enough, and simply a matter of positioning the right marketing campaigns, politicians, and cults in service of the task. Influence is 20th century technology perfected by the marriage with 21st century finance and technology. And the kicker? The best way to capture a government is to eliminate it. Obviously, the need to address anthropogenic climate change is real, and is impeded by the capture or elimination of government.
  • Some have already decided that . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

11 June 2022 at 9:41 am

Abbott calls Texas school shooting a mental health issue but cut state spending for mental health

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 and 

Gov. Greg Abbott said Wednesday that the Uvalde school shooter had a “mental health challenge” and the state needed to “do a better job with mental health” — yet in April he slashed $211 million from the department that oversees mental health programs.

In addition, Texas ranked last out of all 50 states and the District of Columbia for overall access to mental health care, according to the 2021 State of Mental Health in America report.

“We as a state, we as a society, need to do a better job with mental health,” Abbott said during a news conference at Robb Elementary School, where a gunman shot and killed 19 children and two teachers on Tuesday.

His remarks came just a day after an outraged Connecticut senator called out lawmakers opposed to gun control who seek to blame mental illness for the most recent school shooting and others before it.

In rejecting suggestions that stronger gun control laws could have prevented the tragedy, Abbott conceded the slain 18-year-old suspect had no known mental health issues or criminal history but said, “Anybody who shoots somebody else has a mental health challenge.”

His assertions drew rebukes from public health experts and scholars who study mass murderers, as well as from his Democratic gubernatorial rival Beto O’Rourke, who was ejected from the news conference after storming the stage and accusing the pro-gun Republican of “doing nothing” to stop gun violence.

“There is no evidence the shooter is mentally ill, just angry and hateful,” said Lori Post, director of the Buehler Center for Health Policy and Economics at the Northwestern University School of Medicine. “While it is understandable that most people cannot fathom slaughtering small children and want to attribute it to mental health, it is very rare for a mass shooter to have a diagnosed mental health condition.”

David Riedman, founder of the Center for Homeland Defense and Security’s K-12 School Shooting Database, said, “Overall, mass shooters are rational. They have a plan. It’s something that develops over months or years, and there’s a clear pathway to violence.”

The much bigger problem, they said, is Texas and many other states are awash in weapons.

“Texas has more guns per capita than any other state,” Post said. “After the tragic 2019 mass shooting in El Paso, the governor signed several bills to curb mass shootings; unfortunately, most of those bills involved arming the public to stop mass shooters.”

Post pointed out that police officers trained in active shootings were injured Tuesday. She and others said . . .

Continue reading. Video at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

26 May 2022 at 1:33 pm

Religious faith as an antidote to gun violence

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Republican politicians are united in saying that gun restrictions will have no effect on gun violence. Michael A. Cohen writes in his Truth and Consequences column:

. . . “We have to harden these targets,” says Texas Lt. Gov Dan Patrick. Station armed guards at schools, says Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Meanwhile, an armed security guard was at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde. There was an armed guard at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland, Florida. He hid for cover as a mass shooter killed 17 students and teachers.

In the Dayton shooting I mentioned above, the gunman was shot dead by police just 32 seconds after he opened fire. By then, he had already killed nine people and wounded seventeen. Are we supposed to take solace in that he didn’t kill more?

Patrick also went on Fox News to declare that the scourge of gun violence results from declining religious faith and “you just cannot change character without changing a heart, and you can’t do that without turning to God.”

Cohen than provides two interesting charts. The first is from the Pew Research Center. The chart at the link is interactive and by hovering the mouse over a state you get more detailed information.

The second is from the Centers for Disease Control. The chart is for 2020 (most recent year available), and at the site you can select other years and also click a state to get more detailed information.

Cohen’s column is worth reading, but it is evident that Texas Lt. Gov Dan Patrick is full of shit. “Harden the targets”? Really. Armed police are clearly not enough. Is he suggesting a Special Forces squad assigned to each school?

And if the community is religious it need not fear gun violence? Look at the charts. 

Texas Lt. Gov Dan Patrick is some combination of ignorant, deceptive, stupid, and scared.

And, for what it’s worth, Republicans in the Senate killed a bill to combat domestic terrorism (gift link, no paywall). Apparently Senate Republicans support domestic terrorism. 

Written by Leisureguy

26 May 2022 at 12:43 pm

“90% of all firearm deaths for children 0-14 years of age in high-income countries occur in the US.”

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That, of course, is because of a choice the US has made, to make gun ownership a higher priority than children’s lives. In other countries, when terrible gun massacres occur, laws are passed. Not in the US.

Source for that statistic.

From a column in the NY Times:

After the Dunblane Massacre in Scotland in 1996, in which a gunman killed 16 primary-school pupils and a teacher, the British government banned handguns. After the Port Arthur Massacre in Australia that same year, the Australian government introduced stringent gun laws, including a ban on most semiautomatic and automatic weapons as well as licensing and purchasing restrictions. After the Utoya massacre in Norway in 2011, the government banned semiautomatic firearms, persevering with the legislation despite years of opposition from a well-organized hunters’ lobby. After the Christchurch shootings in 2019, New Zealand’s government passed stringent new restrictions on gun ownership and announced a buyback program.

A list of the gun bills stalled in Congress.

Written by Leisureguy

25 May 2022 at 7:28 pm

Comparing causes of deaths worldwide

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Written by Leisureguy

23 May 2022 at 11:52 am

The Unseen Scars of Those Who Kill via Remote Control

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It’s easy to imagine what the US would say about some nation attacking the US or a US ally in this way. Reading this raises the question “Is the US one of the baddies?”

Dave Phillips reports in the NY Times (gift link, no paywall):

REDWOOD VALLEY, Calif. — After hiding all night in the mountains, Air Force Capt. Kevin Larson crouched behind a boulder and watched the forest through his breath, waiting for the police he knew would come. It was Jan. 19, 2020. He was clinging to an assault rifle with 30 rounds and a conviction that, after all he had been through, there was no way he was going to prison.

Captain Larson was a drone pilot — one of the best. He flew the heavily armed MQ-9 Reaper, and in 650 combat missions between 2013 and 2018, he had launched at least 188 airstrikes, earned 20 medals for achievement and killed a top man on the United States’ most-wanted-terrorist list.

The 32-year-old pilot kept a handwritten thank-you note on his refrigerator from the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. He was proud of it but would not say what for, because like nearly everything he did in the drone program, it was a secret. He had to keep the details locked behind the high-security doors at Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs, Nev.

There were also things he was not proud of locked behind those doors — things his family believes eventually left him cornered in the mountains, gripping a rifle.

In the Air Force, drone pilots did not pick the targets. That was the job of someone pilots called “the customer.” The customer might be a conventional ground force commander, the C.I.A. or a classified Special Operations strike cell. It did not matter. The customer got what the customer wanted.

And sometimes what the customer wanted did not seem right. There were missile strikes so hasty that they hit women and children, attacks built on such flimsy intelligence that they made targets of ordinary villagers, and classified rules of engagement that allowed the customer to knowingly kill up to 20 civilians when taking out an enemy. Crews had to watch it all in color and high definition.

Captain Larson tried to bury his doubts. At home in Las Vegas, he exuded a carefree confidence. He loved to go out dancing and was so strikingly handsome that he did side work as a model. He drove an electric-blue Corvette convertible and a tricked-out blue Jeep and had a beautiful new wife.

But tendrils of distress would occasionally poke up, in a comment before bed or a grim joke at the bar. Once, in 2017, his father pressed him about his work, and Captain Larson described a mission in which the customer told him to track and kill a suspected Al Qaeda member. Then, he said, the customer told him to use the Reaper’s high-definition camera to follow the man’s body to the cemetery and kill everyone who attended the funeral.

“He never really talked about what he did — he couldn’t,” said his father, Darold Larson. “But he would say things like that, and it made you know it was bothering him. He said he was being forced to do things that went against his moral compass.”

Drones were billed as a better way to wage war — a tool that could kill with precision from thousands of miles away, keep American service members safe and often get them home in time for dinner. The drone program started in 2001 as a small, tightly controlled operation hunting high-level terrorist targets. But during the past decade, as the battle against the Islamic State intensified and the Afghanistan war dragged on, the fleet grew larger, the targets more numerous and more commonplace. Over time, the rules meant to protect civilians broke down, recent investigations by The New York Times have shown, and the number of innocent people killed in America’s air wars grew to be far larger than the Pentagon would publicly admit.

Captain Larson’s story, woven together with those of other drone crew members, reveals an unseen toll on the other end of those remote-controlled strikes.

Drone crews have launched more missiles and killed more people than nearly anyone else in the military in the past decade, but the military did not count them as combat troops. Because they were not deployed, they seldom got the same recovery periods or mental-health screenings as other fighters. Instead they were treated as office workers, expected to show up for endless shifts in a forever war.

Under unrelenting stress, several former crew members said, people broke down. Drinking and divorce became . . .

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

18 April 2022 at 3:05 pm

No-knock raids have led to fatalencounters and small drug seizures

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Nicole Dungca and Jenn Abelson report in the Washington Post (gift link; no paywall):

This story is part of our reporting for the new investigative podcast “Broken Doors.” Hosted by Jenn Abelson and Nicole Dungca, the six-part audio series examines how no-knock warrants are deployed in the American justice system — and what happens when accountability is flawed at every level.

In Louisiana, it took a judge just a few clicks online to give West Baton Rouge Parish deputies the go-ahead to force their way into a motel room without knocking. Within 30 minutes, officers rushed in and fatally shot an unarmed Black man, seizing a little more than 22 grams of methamphetamine, marijuana, cocaine and hydrocodone.

In St. Louis, a judge authorized police to break down the doors of three homes simultaneously without knocking. Officers killed a 63-year-old Black grandfather, and police said they found just over nine grams of heroin, marijuana, fentanyl and hydrocodone in the three homes combined.

In Houston, a judge approved scores of requests for no-knock warrants for officers who relied on unnamed informants. One raid led to a gun battle that left a White man and woman dead and four officers shot, and it failed to turn up the heroin police said they would find. The officer who requested the warrant later admitted he fabricated the confidential informant.

Judges and magistrates are expected to review requests for no-knock warrants — one of the most intrusive and dangerous tactics available to law enforcement — to ensure that citizens are protected from unreasonable searches, as provided in the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.

But judges generally rely on the word of police officers and rarely question the merits of the requests, offering little resistance when they seek authorization for no-knocks, a Washington Post investigation has found. The searches, which were meant to be used sparingly, have become commonplace for drug squads and SWAT teams.

Criminal justice experts estimate that police carry out tens of thousands of no-knock raids every year nationwide, mostly in drug-related searches. But few agencies monitor their use, making the exact number unknown. None of the 50 state court systems or the District of Columbia reported tracking the use of no-knock warrants. And no federal or state government agencies keep tabs on the number of people killed or wounded in the raids.

“The whole system has devolved into a perfunctory bureaucracy that doesn’t take any care or due diligence for how it’s done,” said Peter Kraska, an Eastern Kentucky University professor who has studied no-knock raids for more than three decades. “That wouldn’t be as big of a deal, except that we’re talking about a really extreme policing approach — breaking into people’s homes with a surprise entry with the possibility of finding evidence.”

[What to know about no-knock warrants]

The raids became a flash point two years ago when  . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

15 April 2022 at 11:54 am

Germany intercepts Russian conversations on indiscriminate killings in Ukraine

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Isaac Stanley-Becker and Vanessa Guinan-Bank report at Stripes:

Germany’s foreign intelligence service claims to have intercepted radio communications in which Russian soldiers discuss carrying out indiscriminate killings in Ukraine.

In two separate communications, Russian soldiers described how they question soldiers as well as civilians and then proceed to shoot them, according to an intelligence official familiar with the findings who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the matter’s sensitivity.

The findings, first reported by the German magazine Der Spiegel and confirmed by three people briefed on the information, further undermine claims by Russia that atrocities are being carried out only after its soldiers leave occupied areas.

Scenes from Bucha, a suburb near the Ukrainian capital, have become a symbol of the war’s atrocities and galvanized calls for probes into possible war crimes. One person said the radio messages are likely to provide greater insight into suspected atrocities in other towns north of Kyiv that had been held by Russian soldiers.

Germany has satellite images that point to Russia’s involvement in the killing of civilians in Bucha, the intelligence official said, but the radio transmissions have not been linked to that location. The foreign intelligence agency, known as the BND, may be able to match signal intelligence with videos and satellite images to make connections to specific killings, two people said.

These people also said the radio traffic suggests that members of the Wagner Group, the private military unit with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his allies, have played a role in attacks on civilians. Another person briefed on the intelligence said the involvement could have been by the Wagner Group or another private contractor.

German intelligence officials on Wednesday briefed . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

7 April 2022 at 1:21 pm

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